Despite the fact that many clubs claim on their websites that they’re focused on long-term development of their players, many of them actually fall short. Way short.
Although many of these clubs are well-intentioned, many clubs – and many coaches within these clubs – seem to struggle with the true meaning of “long-term development.”
When it comes to what we coach and teach on the field, long-term development means: teaching things that will provide success forever, that are not dependent solely on what is relevant at the time.
When considering the things that we teach our kids, if those concepts only provide success in that moment, or at that current stage of their development, then it is not contributing to their long-term growth. These lessons are only bringing them success in the present.
A recent example I encountered was with a coach discussing a shooting activity that he had implemented with his team. When discussing this, he was telling me how he teaches his U13 players to always shoot high because at the U13 age group, the goalkeepers can’t reach the top of the goal. Thus, if his players always shoot high, they will always score if the shot is on frame.
The problem with teaching players to always shoot over the goalkeeper’s head is that one day, every one of those U13 players is going to get taller. The goalkeepers will eventually have no problem reaching the top of the goal as they grow and develop.
Although only shooting high provides success for U13 players at that stage of their lives, it will not be a long-term answer for success as the players reach new stages of development.
In this example, the more appropriate thing to teach the players is to shoot where there is space in the goal. This leaves every area of the goal as an option, and players must read the situation and make a decision based on what it gives them.
Whether the space is high, low, on the left side, or in the middle, players will learn to place the ball in the net. By teaching players to recognize space in the goal, they will learn to be effective finishers at all stages of their playing careers, regardless of how tall or athletic a goalkeeper is.
As we search for solutions in the game for our players, we must ensure that the solutions we teach are not only relevant and true on that day or at that stage of their lives, but that they are also relevant and true every day and at every stage of their lives.
If we consistently focus on teaching players forever-relevant concepts, they will learn to understand the game in a way that benefits them in the long term and for the entirety of their playing careers.